Is the corporate sector in India ready to embrace newsjacking?

Millions of Indians look forward to the Amul ads, the most well-known example of newsjacking in India. The concept of newsjacking is hardly new for PR professionals in India; it’s nothing but a fancy way of saying that we used the current news trends to push a brand’s point of view or just to create brand visibility. Done with care, it’s a useful way to ride a news peg, but is the corporate sector in India ready to embrace newsjacking?  

Moses V Gomes, MarCom Professional, Guest faculty for PR at Whistling Woods and Mumbai University believes that newsjacking is an old concept, just re-packed with new terminology in India. Moses says that: “sectors like celebrity management, politics, and Page 3 socialites have been using it for long time. There are very few corporate entities’ that have used this technique successfully.”

Moses adds that while it is believed that this concept originated in India with the Amul Girl mascot, he thinks politics and Bollywood have been using it for a long time.

Is the India corporate sector ready for newsjacking?

Rakesh Kumar Jha, PR Professional with a leading PR agency, believes that India is gradually getting ready for effective newsjacking. “It’s a high risk, high return game. Today as a nation, we are young, vibrant and experimenting. Companies today are looking at avenues to reach out to their target groups and are not averse to using radical ideas to get their messaging out to their right target groups. It’s just a matter of time until we start seeing more of such examples in the Indian market. “

However Moses does not agree: “India is not yet ready for newsjacking, as most of the PR professionals are bound by email approval on any idea or concept, which usually takes time and by that time, the story is dead. Though, politicians and celebrities are effectively using it to garner coverage in media, social media and word-of-mouth. It will take time for corporates and PR professionals to formally embrace this concept and generate maximum coverage for the client. This is because PR professionals need to understand the client’s business and competition to win the complete trust of the client and understand the different media channels and their style of reporting.”

Murali, Transmedia story-teller at The PR workshop points out that: “Until now, newsjacking has been a huge missed opportunity in our country. It’s in the hands of the PR fraternity to change this.” Murali believes that: “The Indian PR professional is indeed ready to act independently to newsjack. When an organisation or client can trust her with its communication outreach program, it’s a natural consequence that the needed amount of autonomy on the PR tools that can be rightfully deployed is there. It’s important for the PR professional to highlight the tremendous impact the right type of newsjacking does to the client – when done right.”

Murali says that Amul is in a sense a pioneer in news-jacking. For ages, they have been creating immense brand recall, loyalty and incremental value using the topical ads – which are now world famous. The Amul ads are by far the best examples of news-jacking, and even trans-media newsjacking.

Murali believes that the Amul ads demonstrate that the: "Indian consumer is not shy of seeing brand names pegged along with the news cycle. So, it’s more that our PR and marketing professionals have not done that as much as their counterparts in the Western world.”

Corporate Newsjacking that worked: Groupon India, Holiday

Groupon India

There are recent examples of successful corporate newsjacking in India. Rakesh outlines the story of Groupon: “Last year in September, Groupon started selling onions at Rs. 9 per kilo at a time when onion prices were sky rocketing at around Rs 80-100 per kg. While it’s always questionable on the feasibility of selling onions at such a low price point when the market prices were sky high, the results were phenomenal. They made a killing with their onion campaign – they captured thousands of new customers and amplified their customer base at a price much lower than the average cost of a digital marketing campaign!”

Rakesh quotes reports as saying that the campaign was so successful that:

  • The first 3000 Kgs of onion were sold in a flat 44 minutes.
  • Sudden traffic on the site subsequently crashed Groupon India site – It was a crash that Groupon actually would have loved for the attention, and the marketing mileage!
  • There was a 400% jump in Google search for Groupon on the day when the deal went live.
  • Close to 15 thousand + new registrations in the space of a week.

Rakesh concludes that: “Some of us might contest against the figures mentioned here BUT in terms of PR they actually gained much beyond what they might have lost in terms of money. See we are discussing it, right! This is the power of a properly executed campaign. Nearly every type of media talked about the deal including the Wall Street Journal!”


Nihal Shaikh says that for Holiday IQ, newsjacking started as a reaction to news stories in mid-June 2013 when the Rupee’s value quickly and suddenly depreciated compared to the Dollar. “There was a lot of media interest around how this would affect Indians, as well as those planning a holiday abroad. Initial news stories, which even quoted prominent players in the travel industry, reported that the intention to travel abroad had reduced.”

However Nihal says that was not the data they saw: “Indian travellers were still actively planning holidays - as compared to May 2013, the number of travellers planning international holidays in June had increased by 38%”.  Holiday IQ quickly created a blog post about the data with them, which was finally picked by Hindustan Times and Business Standard.

Nihal says that: “The Hindustan Times story on the topic essentially became a game changer, with media, other travel players including Online travel agent and travel information sites subsequently went on record to change their previous statements and echoing what said from the very beginning – ‘The intention to travel’ among Indian travellers is still strong, however the falling rupee has made people either opt for destinations closer to them or reduce their budgets to accommodate the falling Rupee.”

Celebrity Newsjacking: Shilpa Shetty and Big Brother

Moses feels that some celebrities in India use newsjacking very well. “Internationally lots of B2C companies and celebs use the “NEWSJACKING” strategy, but in India I can only recollect one – Shilpa Shetty story. Shilpa Shetty was part of Celebrity Big Brother and during that time she suffered verbal onslaughts from the now-infamous late Jade Goody in the ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ House. This racial attack made headlines. Her publicist, Dale Bhagwagar used the opportunity to carve out an all-new brand for Shilpa Shetty. He knew what he was doing, and how to do it. Although Shilpa Shetty had been Dale’s PR client for five years, it was only during and after the ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ reality show in UK that he took extra interest in her branding, and that too, at an international level. “

Moses adds that this worked because: “She gave Dale Bhagwagar, her publicist a free hand at managing as her spokesperson, and Dale used this freedom to his advantage.”

Newsjacking is old wine with a pretty label. With the forthcoming elections wiping out other stories from the media, perhaps newsjacking will be one way of creating brand visibility.

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